PIAA girls basketball: In Blackhawk, the coaching apple falls close to the Miller tree

When Steve Lodovico looks at his Blackhawk girls basketball team, he sees something special.

With a 26-2 record and the Cougars outscoring their opponents by an average of 23 points per game, that much might seem obvious.

But now in his ninth season as the program’s head coach, he feels like — for the first time — everything is in place for a state championship.

“I’ve been waiting for a team that has all the pieces to the puzzle,” Lodovico said. “And this group has that. We have the defenders, the shooters, the rebounders and I think the drive to get there.”

Though none of Blackhawk’s players were born at the time, the team’s successful blueprint began taking shape as early as 1995.

It was then that Lodovico was on the boys team, playing for legendary coach John Miller, who amassed 657 wins and eight WPIAL championships.

For all the intricacies of the game Lodovico learned under Miller, his coach’s biggest impact has proven to be more lasting. After all, playing for Miller was what led Lodovico to get into coaching in the first place.

“He was a big influence on everything that I did,” Lodovico said. “We still talk all the time about strategy and things we do.

“He’s been my coaching influence. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am. He kind of turned me on to the game.”

Miller’s effect can even be seen in Lodovico’s current team.

The Cougars play an up-tempo, pressing style that leads to frequent turnovers on defense and easy scoring opportunities. With that strategy, Lodovico aims for his team to outwork opponents at every possible juncture, something else he learned from Miller, who he described as “the hardest-working coach, probably ever.”

That fast pace is reflected in Blackhawk’s scoring numbers, as it averages 66.8 points per game, the second-highest mark of any WPIAL team (behind McGuffey). With that offensive potency comes balance, as the Cougars have three players who average double figures in scoring, a group that includes guards Chassidy Omogrosso, Halle Denman and Bridgette Shaffer.

“A lot of teams come in and try to take Chassidy away, but we have other girls around her who can score,” Lodovico said. “I think that’s the biggest difference with us this year.”

That scoring prowess has helped lead the Cougars to the Class AAA PIAA semifinals, the point in the season where they lost last year.

The opponent is different — Palmrya, not South Park — but the determination is the same.

“I don’t think the girls want to go through that feeling again,” Lodovico said. “They’re really hungry, they’re motivated. We want to get past this game and bring home the championship.”

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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